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THE UNSUNG LIFE OF SABARI

By Indira Ballal

Sabari sat hawking her wares---for sale were the tapioca tubers  she had lovingly nurtured, with cow-dung picked up from the cattle trails in the forest, ashes from the leaves she had burnt and water from the river she had back-breakingly carried every morning and evening.

Her blackened teeth , wrinkled flesh and skin, rheumy eyes, grey matted locks were for free--but, who would want them? Who would even look at her when Chinnamma just a few yards away with her gigabyte breasts rebelling  successfully against her Marxist red blouse. (while hers were a sorry apology, shrunken and shriveled like out of season tender mangoes preserved in brine) offered spicy chilli chicken and beef fry with toddy and hot, hot pickle, along with herself (that was charged extra, of course).

 

ramshabari

Around 3000 years ago, Lord Shree Ram had paid a visit to her sooty hovel. She had trudged the forests, getting scratched by nettles, bitten by blood-thirsty insects, to collect the juiciest and sweetest berries for him. In her immense love and devotion, she had tested every berry for sweetness before offering them to him. In love, what desecration? She had hoped he would visit her after his victory  but, he had been too distracted with clearing the encroachments on the roads of Dharma that he had forgotten the old hag.

And, Lord Ayyappa?. Her penance and prayers had sanctified the hill. Now, all the glory was his. And, his devotees? Hypocrites! You didn't need to go to IITs or pass the IAS to know, what happened in the hearts and loins of men and women. And from befuddled head to crippled toe, the Pampa river was now rheumatic and deadly, breeding worms and mosquitoes, suffocated by the wastes of inhumanity.

 She had witnessed it all; withstood it all

Earlier, she had wept and wailed, beaten her head and breasts, poured mud and ashes over her hair and face. Now, the iron had seeped into her soul, cataract had clouded her vision, the salt of her unwashed sweat had crinkled her skin like dried fish.. But, the fire and heat in her blood had never cooled---that still boiled at all the slime, stench, shit, scabs and sin around her.

She wished she could die, but, she was blessed with the curse of immortality.

 The sun began to set.  Carefully, she eased her rheumatic limbs .Walking unsteadily she began making a pyre of dried twigs and leaves. Among this, she diligently arranged the unsold tapioca.  Borrowing a match- box from the beedi shop nearby, she set fire to the heap .The evening breeze fanned the flame.  Soon, the air filled with the virgin smell of pure fire and the delicious smell of roasted tapioca.

Before the tapioca could get burnt, she beat the flames down with the gunny sack in which she had carried them ." Let the stray dogs and pigs feast on them", she murmured as she hobbled away towards the darkening forest.